Processing of the maize Bt toxin in the gut of Mythimna unipuncta caterpillars
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Mythimna unipuncta Haworth (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae) is a well-known moth species whose larvae can cause devastating damage to some Poaceae crops, including maize (Zea mays L.). The low susceptibility to the Bacillus thuringiensis Berliner (Bt) toxin observed in L6 larvae of this species has been the object of several studies. This study aimed to clarify whether the toxin eliminated from the content of the peritrophic membrane is degraded or excreted and whether the effects of the Bt toxin depend on the doses ingested. To this end, L6 larvae were fed on diets with different amounts of lyophilized Bt or non-Bt maize leaves. The effect of the Bt concentrations on larval development was measured and the fate of the toxin in the larval tissues was tracked. Results indicated that the larvae of M.unipuncta fed on the various diets showed few differences in weight gain, duration of development, or pupal weight between sublethal Bt concentrations. The larvae rapidly excreted a large part of the toxin ingested, whereas inside the peritrophic membrane the toxin was eliminated, degraded, or sequestered at a rate that increased with the dose and the duration of feeding. As a consequence, little toxin reached the midgut epithelium and therefore the binding sites of the toxin. Moreover, larvae fed on the Bt toxin recovered quickly when they were transferred to a non-Bt diet.